Saturday, October 21, 2023

Art of and for the People at Mingei--Music too!

 By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. Photos by Maurice Hewitt.

Sunrise in the Village: an impressive tapestry by an unidentified mid-20th-century Egyptian weaver, part of the upcoming exhibit Over/Under: Woven Craft at Mingei, opening November 4.

Mingei is a Japanese word meaning “art of the people”--i.e. folk art--and  since 1978, the Mingei Museum has been exhibiting pieces by ancient and contemporary makers of beautiful and interesting objects that have not always been considered works of art.

The word was first used by Sōetsu Yanagi, a Japanese philosopher who lived in Korea for awhile 100 years ago. He seriously admired rustic Korean pottery, things like teapots and cups that people had been using for centuries and just took for granted, so he began his own collection, and opened a small museum of Korean crafts. He wrote and lectured about the beauty of undervalued folk art, and when he returned to Japan, he opened the first mingei museum there, in 1936.

Two decades later, Martha Longenecker, a ceramicist and professor of ceramics and design at San Diego State University, began travelling to Japan to research the history of Japanese pottery.  She met Sōetsu Yanagi, and over the years, studied with several contemporary potters, whom she brought here to lecture and demonstrate their art. In 1974, she founded Mingei as a nonprofit organization to encourage cultural exchanges, and in 1978, after developer Ernest Hahn gifted her with 20 free years of tenancy, she supervised the design and construction of the original Mingei Museum at University Towne Centre.

For the next 27 years, she was the museum’s director, overseeing the 1996 creation of the much larger space in Balboa Park.  And in 2003, in recognition of her contribution to transcultural artistic understanding, Martha Longenecker was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by the Emperor of Japan.

This is a good time to celebrate the “artistic understanding” between Japan and San Diego, since from now through January 7 you can see Washi Transformed: New Expressions in Japanese Paper, a fine exhibit of unusual paper artworks made in recent years.

Here are four of our favorites. 

Lanterns, by Eriko Hirikiin

Japanese Paper Strings, by Kakuko Ishii

Hanging Sail, by Kyoko Ibe

Line Transformation #2, by Yuko Nishimura

On October 19, there was a very special evening at Mingei, a wonderful concert experience presented by Art of Elan that featured acclaimed shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki and included a number of gifted locals: the Hausmann String Quartet, percussionist Mitchell Carlstrom, and the San Diego Children’s Choir. You don’t have to feel bad that you missed it; you can stream it for free at Download Code: MapsandMemories.

Kojiro Umezaki, shakuhachi player, at Art of Elan’s Maps & Memories concert.

Art of Elan will also be doing an art-and-music collaboration with Danielle Dean, current artist-in-residence at ICA North in Encinitas, on their C U Saturday, November 18.  

And there’s more at Mingei, something seasonal, on view just outside their doors through November 30.


Detail from the Dia de los Muertos Altar

 Obviously, there’s a lot going on at the Mingei Museum this fall. Why not go see for yourself! 


Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has been writing about arts and lifestyles in San Diego County for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

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